Short history and definition

Hakhshara refers to the self-organized training of adolescents and young adults in agriculture, horticulture, practical trades and home economics as a prerequisite for immigration to the British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. The word itself comes from Hebrew and is usually translated as “preparation”.

Starting at the end of the 19th century, the Hakhshara trainings were initially based on the idea of an “occupational retraining” within the Jewish community. A shift toward “practical” jobs, which had long been unavailable to Jews, was intended to change the job structure within the Jewish population and in doing so, counter antisemitic reservations. Zionism, which emerged in the 1890s, connected this occupational restructuring with the project of returning Jewish men and women to Eretz Israel. Therefore, within the framework of the Hakhshara, practical vocational training was combined with preparation for Aliyah (emigration) and living and working on a kibbutz in Palestine. Accordingly, the Hakhshara always included the study of Jewish culture and history (tarbut) and the learning of the Hebrew language alongside practical vocational training. Even though in practice many of the halutzim (pioneers) of the early period were forced to work alone, the Hakhshara – in contrast to occupational retraining – also included civic education and practicing collective forms of working, learning and living, as they were necessary for the kibbutz. With just a few exceptions, these attempts were also closely tied to socialist ideas.

The first groups of the HeHalutz, the umbrella organization of the Jewish halutz youth and organizer of the Hakhshara, were first formed mainly in Eastern Europe, where the hardships and adversity facing young Jews and the threat of antisemitism were felt earlier and more strongly than in Germany. The catalyst for the pioneer movement in both Eastern Europe as well as in Germany was the Jewish youth movement which had arisen in both places shortly before the beginning of World War I. A large portion of the early halutzim and activists of the HeHalutz came from this movement, who came together toward the end of the war in newly founded organizations. With the project of Palestine as a “Jewish homeland” made possible by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the ideas of the Hakhshara, Aliyah and kibbutz life began to take shape.

After the end of World War I, Hakhshara trainings began to take place in Germany, as well. The German National Association of HeHalutz was founded in 1922. However, during the years of the Weimar Republic, it rarely had more than 600 members. Starting in the mid to late 1920s, non-Zionists within the Jewish community in Germany also began looking into new forms of vocational training, although their goal was not living on a kibbutz in Palestine. The most prominent project was the Jewish settlement in Groß Gaglow near Cottbus. Here, the goal was not to prepare for emigration or Aliyah, but to establish a Jewish settlement within Germany.

Some of the agricultural, horticultural and home economics training took place on so-called teaching farms, which were the preferred form (even often idealized) by halutz organizations from the very beginning. However, before 1933, such teaching farms were rather the exception than the rule; more often than not, whatever places were being offered had to make do.

Besides the dominant agricultural projects, starting in the mid-1920s, there were also trainings in practical trades and home economics that many completed in cities. However, mostly due to the inadequate source material, how these functioned is underrepresented in Hakhshara research up to now. An example of further specialized training in specific lines of work is what is known as the maritime Hakhshara.

With the transfer of power to the Nazis, the situation was fundamentally changed. Hakhshara training was able to fulfill the requirements to receive one of the British Mandate’s strictly limited worker’s-entry certificates. The program was therefore rapidly transformed from an institution of Jewish self-help and Zionist education into a system of comprehensive vocational training, education and emigration. As a reaction to the increasing disenfranchisement of the Jews by the Nazi dictatorship, already in 1933/34, the German National Association of the HeHalutz reached its highest level of membership with approximately 14,000 members. As there were fewer and fewer possibilities to train with non-Jewish farmers, Hakhshara farm estates and centers now became the norm in Germany.

At the same time, Youth Aliyah targeting adolescents under 18 was introduced alongside the regular Hakhshara. These participants only had to complete a short preparatory period in Germany, followed by a comprehensive two-year training with Hebrew and tarbut courses in Palestine. The Youth Aliyah groups that arrived in Palestine after the spring of 1934 were generally sent to various kibbutzim. Starting in 1935, when it was impossible for most Jewish adolescents to obtain a higher education in Germany, Zionist organizations created a third institution, the so-called Middle Hakhshara, which offered training lasting somewhere between the classic Hakhshara and the Youth Aliyah, and where adolescents under 18 could receive an education and training in Germany.

After 1933, there were also more and more training and educational possibilities in other European countries. HeHalutz and Bachad had already been organizing such programs starting in the mid-1920s. Starting in the mid-1930s, around a third of all German halutzim received their training outside of Germany, most often in the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden. In contrast to the Hakhshara in Germany, there they mostly trained with non-Jewish farmers. To be able to still enable a collective exchange of ideas and communal learning, HeHalutz and Bachad organized weekly group meetings which were also used for Hebrew and tarbut instruction. Some of these groups therefore already considered themselves to be kibbutzim, and the term Hakhshara kibbutz was commonly used.

On the pogrom night of November 9, 1938 and its aftermath, numerous Hakhsharot were attacked by Nazis, halutzim were abused and older adolescents taken to concentration camps. A large number of them were able to be released after a short time, but on the condition that they leave Germany as quickly as possible. Between November 1938 and the summer of 1939, most Zionist organizations in Germany were banned. Afterwards, some of those responsible for HeHalutz continued to work; for example, in the department for vocational preparation in the Palestine Office located in the Meineckestrasse in Berlin. In the years 1939 – 1941, it was possible to maintain a few Hakhsharot in Germany, but they were increasingly isolated and under continually growing control by the Gestapo. With the gradual conversion of Hakhshara sites into forced labor camps and the October 1941 ban on Jews from emigrating, the idea of “preparation” for Aliyah had to be abandoned.

The last Hakhshara sites, which had been converted into forced labor camps, were mostly dissolved in the spring of 1943 and the remaining halutzim deported to extermination camps. This initially ended the history of the Hakhshara in Germany. After the occupation of Poland, the Czechoslovak Republic, France, the Benelux countries and some Scandinavian countries by Nazi Germany, the young halutzim who were in Hakhshara abroad were now in danger of their lives.

After the end of World War II, starting in 1945 there were once again Hakhshara trainings in Germany, especially around Displaced Person camps. There, mainly Eastern European Jewish men and women who had survived the extermination camps prepared themselves for a life in Palestine (and starting in 1948, in Israel). At the same time, with the Gehringshof, also called kibbutz Buchenwald, there was a Hakhshara which was formed by survivors from the former Hakhsharot in Ahrensdorf and Neuendorf.